In the first game of a playoff series against the St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., broke an unwritten rule of baseball and brought life to an otherwise overlooked MLB postseason.
Baseball is infamous for its “unwritten rules” — a series of unspoken, universally agreed-upon code of laws that all players, managers and owners abide by out of respect for the game and its history. Some are based in superstition – such as not acknowledging a no-hitter in progress; others are out of sportsmanship, such as not stealing bases when ahead by a large margin.
Perhaps the most contentious is the rule about celebrating after a home run, specifically, doing next to nothing despite the home run’s magnitude.
While pitchers are permitted to celebrate strikeouts, it is taboo for a batter to celebrate a home run overtly. The antithesis of this, is the bat flip.
“I flipped my bat. I’m human. The emotion got to me,” said Jose Bautista, former Blue Jays outfielder after perhaps the most famous bat flip in baseball history. “It’s in my DNA.”
As trivial as they may seem, the unwritten rules indicate a much larger and more pressing problem in baseball: a lack of fun resulting in a decrease of interest for a younger audience unfamiliar with the sport.
In the past few decades, younger generations have seemingly fallen out of love with baseball. According to a 2017 study by Sports Business Journal, the average baseball fan is 57 years old, seven years older than the average football fan, and a whopping fifteen years older than the average basketball fan.
MLB has attempted to remedy the lack of young viewership in several ways, most notably by taking extensive measures to increase the play’s pace. As of the 2020 season, games were reduced to seven innings in doubleheaders, and the Minor Leagues began experimenting with a pitch clock.
It remains to be seen whether or not these proposed changes will attract a younger audience back to the American pastime. Players like Tatis Jr. are willing to break the unwritten rules and bring fun back to baseball.
“I think it’s cool when you bring excitement to the game, and you
bring something different. I think I bring something different to the game, and that’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement,” said Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson after a bat flip in May of 2019. “I’m trying to have fun.”